At the 2012 International Labour Conference (ILC), a controversy arose when the Employers’ group in the Committee on the Application of Standards (CAS) challenged the annual survey presented by ILO Committee of Experts (CEACR). The employers denounced the CEACR opinion not only for stating that ILO Convention No. 87 protects workers’ right to strike, but also arguing that the CEACR had exceeded its mandate by interpreting a Convention. This disagreement led to the first failure of the CAS to examine cases since 1927. Although the implications for the right to strike have been much discussed, the controversy also has troubling implications for the ILO itself; and potentially for the global governance of human rights at work. Because those outside the ILO have sometimes looked to it for guidance in interpreting certain human rights, the Employers’ stance appears to be aimed at preventing the ILO from speaking with one voice. But the implications of the 2012 ILC incident are broader. The Employers’ stance at the 2012 ILC effectively produces a fragmented view of fundamental rights. The Employers’ position — that each nation state can decide what the human right means — does not accord with the prevailing legal view that internationally recognized human rights have a meaning and that member States must cede sovereignty and act in accordance with the international understanding of the right expressed in the Convention or treaty. Rather than a minor skirmish between Employers and Workers, the Employers’ position at the 2012 ILC, if accepted, would undermine the entire post-World War II notion of universal human rights.
Janice R. Bellace
Since 1919, there have been international efforts to regulate working conditions. Traditionally, governments ratified conventions and then enacted laws obligating employers who were within their jurisdiction to abide by certain standards. In the 1970s there was the realization that some multinational enterprises (MNEs) could act in ways affecting workers quite differently than domestic employers. This led to a spate of soft law guidelines aimed at MNEs. By the 1990s, globalization and the phenomenon of global supply chains showed the inadequacy of this approach to regulating the corporate behaviour as companies (not necessarily ‘employers’) and brands sourced products from vendors in other countries, many of which did not adhere to international labour standards. This chapter traces the evolution of efforts to regulate the behaviour of companies, from soft law to hard law, and examines how notions of fundamental rights have evolved into acceptance that business should respect human rights, including the human rights of persons at work, and how this has affected the CSR stance of companies.
Janice R. Bellace and Beryl ter Haar
Virginia Leary once observed a curious phenomenon: that labour law and human rights law are on parallel tracks that rarely cross. This phenomenon is unexpected because some of the most obvious violations of individuals’ human rights, for instance, slave labour or child labour, occur when they are working. But until recently many human rights scholars veered off and focused on civil and political rights, all but ignoring rights that are violated when people are working. It is as if individuals, when they are viewed as workers, are compartmentalized, sealed off and cast to the side in human rights scholarship. This may result from the fact that some see labour law as governing work relationships and fail to consider the human rights dimensions of the employment or work arrangement. It may also result from the fact that those human rights scholars who focus on civil and political rights tend to see the State as the actor who violates the human rights of individuals, either directly or by failing to enforce the law or remedy violations. This is a very public law focus, and most employment and work relations are the subject of private law. Except when considering the most blatant situations (such as slavery), human rights scholars typically overlook how human rights guarantees affect people at work. This lack of consideration may be related to the fact that most employment and work relationships flow from an agreement by the worker to perform work in return for compensation.